As Me with Sinéad — 3: Riz Ahmed

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Sinéad Burke [00:00:05] This week on As Me with Sinéad, I spoke with Riz Ahmed at his workspace in London with the help of a mobile podcasting team. We talked about being an artist and an activist, how was Muslim upbringing shaped the way he moves through life, climate change and what it’s like to live in his body. Also, how he overcomes imposter syndrome. 


Riz Ahmed [00:00:28] It’s interesting. I think that times people ask like, where do you find a self belief? And I don’t know about you, but I feel like a complete imposter a lot of the time. I feel like lot of people do. What helps me is not believing in myself, believing in something bigger than myself. That sense of mission, I think, really animates you and gives you more rocket fueld like searching for validation or a kind of belief in your specialness. 


Sinéad Burke [00:00:51] I’m spending the summer in Paris. Well, a month of it at least. And something that I haven’t stopped thinking about that I really feel you should know about is the Black Models exhibition at the Musee d’Orsay that took place earlier this summer. According to the museum itself, this exhibition offers a new perspective on a topic which has been disregarded for too long: the major contribution of black people and personalities to art history. For the exhibition the museum updated so much of the offensive language that characterised the era and the portraits of the time. It was mesmerizing, transformative and the first step to ensuring that institutions are reflective of the diversity of people who visit and on the walls too. 


Sinéad Burke [00:01:46] I think to start this, the only way is that when I have been telling people who I love, admire and respect that I’m talking to you, their first question is ‘How?’ I think that’s a really good question. So at a party and Stella McCartney’s honor, I rapped at Riz Ahme his verse for Immigrants Get the Job Done. And I mean, an instant friendship on my behalf. Instant continuous irritation on his. Riz,I genuinely can’t tell you how much it means to me that you’re sitting in front of me and willing to do this. Thank you. 


Riz Ahmed [00:02:20] Thank you so much for having me. Yeah. In the short time that you’ve been irritating me it’s been, yeah –


Sinéad Burke [00:02:27] Relentless. 


Riz Ahmed [00:02:27] – inspirational to see the work you’re doing and everything you stand for now. Particularly you are. And I’m really excited to listen to all the other episodes. So. 


Sinéad Burke [00:02:34] Thank you. 


Riz Ahmed [00:02:34] Thanks for letting me be a part of it. 


Sinéad Burke [00:02:36] The first question that we’re asking everybody is how do you describe yourself personally and professionally? 


Riz Ahmed [00:02:42] I try not to, really. I mean, you sometimes have to and people say, ‘Oh, you know, send across a bio sheet or something.’  A bio for everything you do and you kind of end up trying to list your achievements, talk about your background and you frame a narrative that, you know, is flattering and substantive and meaningful. And I feel that those things can make us feel secure in who we are, you know, give us a frame in which to think about our lives and to try and imbue some meaning. But I also think that ultimately can be quite limiting and quite corrosive, because what they’re doing is they’re, they’re building up an idea of who you are. They’re building up your ego. Which is necessary to some extent. You know, you need a bit of kind of healthy narcissism to be an artist or to be someone who thinks I’m going to try and impact the world, change people’s hearts and minds, but it can also just be a bit toxic. And so I try not to describe myself anymore. 


Sinéad Burke [00:03:40] Well, that’s helpful for a first question, Riz. Thank you. 


Riz Ahmed [00:03:43] Well, I mean, if you mean in terms of like what are the jobs that I do? What are the things I do to earn money or what are the things that take up my time that aren’t like sleeping and eating and seeing friends and family? Then I guess I act. That’s one thing I do. Another thing I’m doing more of is developing film and television as a producer and, eventually, as a writer/director of projects I’m developing in that vein. I guess another thing I do is I make music.  And I guess the last thing I do is kind of stuff that’s just about social impact or cultural impact. You know, talking or amplifying voices of people who are activists. So that’s kind of what I’m engaged in. And I guess the thing that ties them all together is, I guess, a mission to try and stretch culture. So that people who’ve traditionally been on the periphery of our cultural stories, our national stories, our stories about what matters and who matters, that those people can find some footing at the heart of our culture and that we can stretch culture to be big enough to embrace all of us. 


Sinéad Burke [00:04:46] I’m going to come back to the idea of stretching culture, but it’s interesting that you’ve gone from not describing yourself to describing yourself in terms of professional domains. But who are you as a person? Like what matters to you? Like, what are you proud of within yourself? 


Riz Ahmed [00:05:02] Well, that’s a big question, man. 


Sinéad Burke [00:05:04] You’re welcome. 


Riz Ahmed [00:05:06] What matters to me about the world or what matters to me about me, like what are the things that I think about myself and think, oh, you know, a total waste of space. What do you mean? 


Sinéad Burke [00:05:16] Both. 


Riz Ahmed [00:05:16] Well, I guess what really matters to me is connection. I love the idea of just connecting with people, man. I love the idea of, like, just being able to, like, pass through someone’s life for a moment and light it up. I find that really moving, I find that really satisfying, it makes me feel fulfilled. This idea that we’re all just kind of like passing through this life and you blink and before you know it, you’ll be gone. I mean, in my mind, I’m still like 21 trying to work it all out. But I’m 36 now. I’m closer to 50 than I am to twenty. And the last 15 years have been amazing but they have just flown by. So I mean, I’m constantly kind of aware of this. And I think it’s actually something to do with having a Muslim upbringing where the afterlife, and the idea of like this life is a dream and so you blink twice and it’s over, it’s so deeply inculcated in our culture that, yeah, I’m just kind of very much of the opinion that, like, connect while you here. Try and light up people’s lives and light a path for people while you’re here and then you’re done. When I’m at my least anxious, least fearful, least ego-driven and most mindful, I like to think that what matters to me is connection. 


Riz Ahmed [00:06:32] But of course, I’m very often not in that state of mind, and I’m often thinking, well, what matters most is what awards you’re getting and how much you’re being paid and what the press clippings are saying and what the tweets about you saying and how many social media followers do I have. And, you know, did that girl text me back. And we get caught up in that, kind of, treadmill of dopamine and validation. Particularly as performers, particularly as people in the public eye. We must have something hardwired into us that seeks validation. And yet, of course, so much the time I’m like shit that, you know, I’m caught up in that and that what must be what matters. But when I got a bit of perspective, I think what really matters is connecting with people. And what’s great about the work that I do is you often get to connect with people en masse. 


Sinéad Burke [00:07:17] How do you modulate those almost two aspects of yourself? The understanding and the cognizance of the ‘performance?’ Proverbially and visually, but also realizing that, in order to strike that last identity connection, you have to be humble and you have to rein in your ego and wield it carefully. 


Riz Ahmed [00:07:38] Is really tricky, isn’t it? Because I often think that particularly in the creative industries, there’s this inherent tension in the creative life and the creative business. Because the creative life really all revolves around kind of getting out of your own way. I mean, you’ll do your best work when you’re suddenly just channeling some energy and it flows through you and someone goes, ‘Wow, how did you write that?’ And you go, ‘I don’t know, man. It just happened.’ And you give your best performance as an actor when you forget yourself, when there is no self-consciousness, you know? When the scene or the moment or the energy in the room is kind of flowing through. And that’s all about ultimately egolessness. We’re tapping into a kind of like, universal consciousness, which is what we try and to do when we meditate. Which is what all spiritual traditions are about – i t’s about tapping into that reservoir of consciousness that connects all of us, that energy field that physics is also showing us now connects all of us, right? That’s the creative life. Creative business is very much about marking yourself out as special, is about individuation, is about buying into the illusion of separateness and uniqueness, you know, finding what your unique selling point is. It’s about adorning your ego with accolades and, you know, all the bells and whistles. And it’s really difficult because, in order for your creative work to reach a mass audience, sometimes you have to dip into playing the creative business game. But playing the creative business game is essentially toxic because it’s really hard to turn that off once you turn on that part of your brain. So it’s a constant balance, It’s a constant readjustment. And actually, I feel like a lot of creative people probably spend a lot of their time in transition between the two. In that state of kind of trying to shed the creative business mindset and get into the pure creativity mindset. Or vise versa, coming out of the creative cave and kind of preparing yourself for those blinding lights. 


Sinéad Burke [00:09:39] We’ve both experienced quite a lot of firsts. You know, I was very fortunate to be the first little person at the Met Gala or to introduce the word “duine biag ” into the Irish language, which is the word for little person. And it didn’t exist before then. But there must be benefits also in terms of delivering something or being part of something that is going to reach an audience ‘en masse,’ as you said. But yet it does play into this creative business rather than the creative reservoir. 


Riz Ahmed [00:10:06] Yeah, having visibility and having a voice out there in the world can absolutely benefit culture and benefit the world. The thing that ties together, all the things I do is my mission to try and stretch culture, you know? 


Sinéad Burke [00:10:19] Have you always had that mission? 


Riz Ahmed [00:10:20] You know, I think over the last year and a half came to a realization that the reason I’m able to do what I do is because I am a code switcher. And I’ve grown up and had to kind of live my life navigating different worlds that are often quite different from each other. Their landscapes aren’t my own making. And so I changed my accent or the way I dress or, you know, even my values or the views I might express growing up, you know, from one world to another. From a traditional Pakistani and working class household to a posh private school that I got a scholarship to that’s like an hour and a half away from where I live. To hanging out with your mates and you rude boys to being Hollywood liberal. But the ‘why?’ actually has to be about ending all code switching. I’d like to stretch culture to a place where I don’t have to leave any part myself at home when I’m entering a room or people after me or when I have kids. I don’t want them to have to kind of like edit themselves for acceptance in any given social context. So that’s about stretching things. And there was this quote that Zadie Smith gave in an interview, which I always come back to. It says, ‘All I want to do with my life is take words like “black” or “British” or “woman’ and stretch them so they’re big enough I can live inside them comfortably.’ And so I guess I realized, although, yes, there was always this kind of desire to provoke and innovate and stretch and create from a voice that might have previously been edited out of our culture, there was always that – this realization that actually, what I’m trying to do is get to a place where I don’t have to put on these masks anymore. That came more recently. And it came from a creative breakthrough actually of, you know, the way I used to prepare for acting roles used to be a lot of research. Used to be about entering worlds and interviewing people and inhabiting their lives. And I think what I’m doing more now is trying to inhabit my own life and if you can name the pain that made you, maybe you can heal others of theirs. And that’s grounded more in the realization that we’re all the same. We’re all the same. Our pain is the same, our happiness is the same. And actually, now I’m creating much more from a place of trying to tap into the reservoir in myself, which is the reservoir and all of us, as opposed to creating mosques, which is what I was doing before. 


Sinéad Burke [00:12:35] And what’s it like to live in your buddy? 


Riz Ahmed [00:12:40] What is it like to live in my body? It’s not as energized as the body as it used to be. I start realizing it’s like ‘shit man.”. 


Sinéad Burke [00:12:50] Things start creaking. 


Riz Ahmed [00:12:51] Yeah, they do start creaking, man. And I guess you start feeling a little bit more like, okay, before I used to try and do everything. Now I’m just trying. It’s a long journey for me to say no and learn to say no to things. I’m trying to get a lot better at that 


Sinéad Burke [00:13:06] Do you have principles or anything that guides you and helping you to say no? I ask this question because I have five questions that guides me. 


Riz Ahmed [00:13:13] Yeah. What guides you? 


Sinéad Burke [00:13:16] What’s the purpose? Does this fulfill my goals and ambitions? Does this pay the rent? Does this give back? Does this bring other people with me? It doesn’t answer yes to more than one or two of those questions, it gives me a really good reason to say no. And sometimes you have to do things that pay the rent. Sometimes you have to do things because they are what you’ve dreamed of since you were a child. And sometimes you really want to do things because there is a space in which not only you can take it up, but you can bring other people with you. 


Riz Ahmed [00:13:47] I love that. I love it so much. I’m going to steal that.  So, okay. What’s the purpose? Does it further my goals and ambitions, which is similar to ‘what’s the purpose,’ because it’s going to be ‘What is your purpose? 


Sinéad Burke [00:13:58] Exactly. 


Riz Ahmed [00:13:59] So goals, ambitions/purpose is two of them. 


Sinéad Burke [00:14:01] Yep. Rent. 


Riz Ahmed [00:14:02] Bring people with me. 


Sinéad Burke [00:14:04] And give back. 


Riz Ahmed [00:14:05] And give back and bring people with me, I guess they overlap a lot as well, right? 


Sinéad Burke [00:14:10] They could be the same, but there’s moments -. 


Riz Ahmed [00:14:11] Cause you’ve got three principles you’ve got there. 


Sinéad Burke [00:14:13] Yeah. And that’s the moral compass that guides me. But one thing that I really admire and I’m inspired by you and your work is that there seems to be this really rigid moral compass within you. Most of the time. Most of the time, unless you’re like partying in a field. 


Riz Ahmed [00:14:29] I’m for sale man. We’re all for sale. No, look, I mean – 


Sinéad Burke [00:14:33] But I wanted to know, like in terms of that, what has grounded you? What has helped you frame this view on the world? 


Riz Ahmed [00:14:40] So to answer your first question first, what are the kind of tests I try and apply to things to filter or, you know, filter them? So it’s usually: Does it stretch me? Does it stretch culture? Is it something that I wish existed but doesn’t and I’m one of the few people that can help bring into existence? And that’s basically it. 


Sinéad Burke [00:15:01] What’s been the best thing you’ve said yes to? 


Riz Ahmed [00:15:06] You know, I think sometimes the things you say yes to the are like totally unexpected. Or the things that you’re like, ‘God, I shouldn’t do that.’ You know, I think one of them was like this speech I gave in parliament, which I never wanted to do that and I’ve always been a bit, like, I feel icky about the idea of like being a pundit or like a social commentator. Like you can talk about changing society or you can just be the change. And I’ve always felt awkward about the fact that I do have ideas to share and thoughts to share. And I’ve always felt slightly awkward about the fact that I’m a good talker because that implies to me maybe I’m not a good doer. And that’s been an insecurity of mine. So I’ve kind of very often like really pull back from like getting up on a soapbox. And I think that was a moment where I was like, ‘You know what? I just, that’s fear-driven decision making.’ And actually, if you apply your tests or my tests, then, yeah, it stretched me to be able to go or let me order what I think and, you know, stretch some other things and the impact it had. I think that was something that I, like, up until the very last moment, I hated the idea of doing it. I didn’t want to do, didn’t think I could do to, thought it was completely pointless, thought it was, like, at best pointless, at worst masturbatory. And as I was doing it, I just felt like, yeah that’s exactly what I should be doing. If you have a voice, use it. So that was something that was a bit of a shift for me, because once I did that, I was like, it’s okay, man. It’s okay to, like, speak out. 


Sinéad Burke [00:16:39] What surprised you afterwards? Was it the feedback? Was that how you felt? 


Riz Ahmed [00:16:43] It was how I felt when I was doing it. It just felt right. It didn’t feel awkward in any way. You know, just when you feel like a state of flow. And it’s interesting, you know, I think that sometimes people asked, like, where do you find self belief? And I dunno about you, but I’m feel like a complete imposter a lot of the time. A lot of people do who are in the public eye. What helps me is not believing myself, believing in something bigger than and other than myself. Because that sense of mission, I think can be really animating. And it gives you more rocket fuel than, like, searching for validation or a kind of belief in your own specialness might give you. And so I think that is just the fact that it was so clearly about something bigger than me. It helped me enter a state of flow. 


Sinéad Burke [00:17:24] For me, it’s this odd dissonance between coming from a place where, you know, it’s still quite frequent behavior for me that I would walk down a street in public and people would point, show, laugh, call me names, take photos of me. I had an instance a couple of months ago where two teenagers, well one leapfrogged over me from behind, in the middle of the street on a Tuesday afternoon, whilst his friend recorded the entire thing. And moving into the public eye for the advocacy work is having this odd conversation where, ‘are think looking at me funny because I’m 3 foot 5 and I’m disabled. Or do they follow me on Instagram?’ It’s hard to measure it, but much similar to yourself. I mean, my role as regards to what I do, is not clearly defined for me or for anybody, much to my mother’s disappointment. Her continuous ask about my pension is becoming interesting and more and more vocal. But I don’t know how long I have to occupy this space. The fashion industry is currently listening to what it is that I and others have to say, but they may not tomorrow. So what fuels me is that, I’m not sure how long I have, and I’m very fortunate that my background is in teaching and facilitating. And if the fashion industry decide tomorrow that, you know what, we’re done with this topic, we’ve kind of given it the room that it needs, then I can go back. But I kind of have this tireless energy, where I need to get as much done now as I can. Because I started this because I wanted to see representation and fashion, because I wanted to buy clothes. There are two things that were really powerful for me growing up, in terms of, not necessarily code switching, but for me to be able to reveal who I was external to my physicality. And that was language and clothes. Because if I use the word ameliorate right in the middle of a sentence, people knew that I wasn’t six. Now, if I used a correctly. But in the same way with clothes that if I wore a ridiculous hat or whatever made me feel confident, and comfortable that day, it took away the burden of having to explicate my vulnerabilities to strangers. It just allowed me to be. And yet there was this frustration with not being able to access it. So it’s like as much as you can now because I’m not sure how long more I’ll be allowed. 


[00:19:35] Yeah, Well, wow. No, wow. Well, I’m sorry you stil have those experiences, man. Isn’t it interesting? Is like sounds like what we’re saying is that it kind of comes from two places. One is this sense of urgency and the other one is it comes from a very personal place. I guess, you know, one of the questions you are asking before about ‘do you think there’s some good that can come of advocacy,’ it can. But I think also, like, advocacy doesn’t come from completely selfless place. It comes from a place of self-preservation often. People who are kind of leading voices in any certain kind of field of advocacy, it’s coming from personal experience, coming from a desire to preserve themselves and others like them. That doesn’t demean it from any kind of moral standpoint. That kind of thing imbues it with an authenticity. 


Sinéad Burke [00:20:16] It’s what fuels it. 


Riz Ahmed [00:20:17] Absolutely.


Sinéad Burke [00:20:18] And ignites it makes go further. 


Riz Ahmed [00:20:19] But you don’t have a choice, though, do you? Do you know what I mean? It’s like your choice is to either kind of like suck it up -. 


Sinéad Burke [00:20:24] Become conditioned, be part of it, be part of the traditional system in a way that excluded you and disenfranchises you, or figure out what you can do and be constructive. It was interesting there you were talking about going into parliament. Is it easier or does it create more impact if you build a new system or do you have to always be part of the old system or is it both are good? 


Riz Ahmed [00:20:48] Oh god. Like, you know, it’s interesting because people say politics is where some of the people are some of the time. Cultures is where all of the people are all of the time. And I do sometimes think that politics can follow where culture leads. And I also think that there is a kind of different level of freedom that you get as a creative person than you might do within a kind of political system. Having said that, like you do need both, right? You need people in parliament, you need people in advocacy groups who kind of might exist within an NGO or other kinds of bureaucracies. Otherwise, all you’re doing is making noise. So you need both elements. I think you need kind of institutional change and you need people on the ground, so to speak, and then you need other people who are kind of like shooting flares up into the sky and saying, “Hey, look at this. This is bright and it makes noise and it’s colorful.’ But what really what you’re doing is you’re lighting up the people on the ground who are making that change. So I think you really need both. But I want to go back to something you were saying there, which is, you know, what choice do you have? And I think a lot of people don’t understand this often as people who might be advocating for certain groups or for more empathy, really, you know, in society, you actually don’t have a choice. It chooses you. Something happens in certain time and certain place and the spotlight falls on you and someone hands you a megaphone and you’re like, ‘Aw, shit.’. 


Sinéad Burke [00:22:06] What was that moment for you? 


[00:22:10] I think the moment for me was the first film I did was called “The Road to Guantanamo.” And I was at drama school thinking, ‘I’m never going to get any acting jobs, man. And I don’t want to spend my career playing terrorists. I should look at low conversion course or something.’ And I got scouted into kind of audition for this film and I got the film. I left drama school early to take it. Had an amazing experience with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran on this crazy trip, which people, they all called it an axis of evil world tour. In, you know, at airports, it’s quite funny. But basically we came back from the Berlin Film Festival. We’d won an award. It was about the true story of three British citizens who were tortured and obtained illegally in Guantanamo Bay. And we came back to Luton Airport. We were all kind of like not even arrested, but just grabbed and thrown into a side room by special branch of British intelligence officers, MI5, who threw us into a side room and put me in arm locks and grabbed my phone, jabbed a finger in my face and said, ‘What do you think you’re doing? Did you become an act to further the Muslim struggle? Is that what this is?’ I knew at that point it was like some of us don’t have a choice. We’re just born into the middle of a situation. We just like you kind of stand up and look around you like, oh, shit, okay. I’m in the middle of a war. I’m a football and there’s a match going on. You know, you don’t have to be kicked about, you can grow legs of your own. And I just kind of realized in that moment where I was like, okay, this is something that happens to a lot of people. It’s happened to me. And it’s like deliciously ironic enough to garner some press attention because it’s an illegal detention of actors who are in a film about illegal detention. So I was like faced with this choice. And all these lawyers were like, that was illegal, what they did to you, you can give a press conference, you can sue them. I instead made a decision to not do that, but instead to write a song, “Post 9/11 blues.” That was a kind of decision for me. It was like, ‘Okay, I feel a responsibility to talk about this. I feel a personal kind of anger and a burning need to talk about this. But I want to do it in a way where I’m not complaining and I’m not a victim in a way where I write my own narrative – 


Sinéad Burke [00:24:22] Agency. 


Riz Ahmed [00:24:22] Yeah, absolutely. And creativity and expression rather than reaction. And so I made this song and the song made an impact. It was back in the day of like MySpace or whatever. But it got banned from airplay on radio and the BBC. And then a kind of viral groundswell pushed it back on. But it was like, that was the next catalyst, you know? That was the moment I was like, okay. It wasn’t like, yeah, pound the bag, play the horn. It’s like, no, there’s more there’s more obstacles. ‘You expressing your reality is not valid, it’s not okay, and we don’t want it.’ And that, of course, you know…Someone does that to you, I’m sure you kind of like, it just makes you wanna –


Sinéad Burke [00:25:02] Not best pleased. 


Riz Ahmed [00:25:02] Exactly. So it kind of sent me down this path of going, okay, it wasn’t an accident that my first acting job was one that was really politically engaged about the post 9/11 landscape. It wasn’t an accident I got stopped. It wasn’t an accident it got banned. What I need to do with my work is carry on down this path of trying to create from a really personal place. But for some people that might seem like a really political place. It just so happens that my personal life, my reality, living in this body, just like your reality, living in that body in a totally different way, is inherently political in some people’s eyes. But if by political they mean provocative to talk about, if by political they mean something that is usually airbrushed out of our stories and our commentary, then yeah, is political. But I don’t think there’s anything inherently political about – 


Sinéad Burke [00:25:54] Wanting to be. 


Riz Ahmed [00:25:56] Yeah. 


Sinéad Burke [00:25:57] And yet it’s made to seem that way. And framed that way. When you decided you were gonna be an actor, were your family -. 


Riz Ahmed [00:26:05] Horrified. 


Sinéad Burke [00:26:05] Horrified?


Riz Ahmed [00:26:06] Yeah. I mean, you know, it’s an insane thing to say that you want to do. It’s just that, the odds are not good. They are not good odds on success. And even within success, like success in these fields, often chew you up and spit you out. They’re short lived, they’re bad for the soul, bad for the body. It’s a tricky thing for parents to hear, right? Like, okay, so you’ve got this good education and now you’re going to do something that has nothing to do with any of that. And particularly, I think, as you know, as a child of immigrants, the mandate is much more like make sure you’re on steady ground, you know. We came here. There’s lots of inherent insecurity around, like, you know, migrating to a new country, starting from scratch, experiencing that kind of de-classing, and then to suddenly kind of find out that your kid doesn’t really want to put you on steady ground, but wants to kind of, you know, have this moonshot. I think it can be scary. I mean, I’d be scared if my kid told me that. 


Sinéad Burke [00:27:02] What’s your greatest quality? 


Riz Ahmed [00:27:04] Oh, man. I mean, I don’t know. I mean, I spend more time thinking about my shortcomings, really. I think a lot of people have a kind of unhelpfully punitive inner voices. And I do realize that, like, you know, being hard on yourself is ultimately can be fruitless. But I don’t know, I am quite stream with the self-criticism. And I think a lot people are. 


Sinéad Burke [00:27:23] What’s the monologue that’s in your head? 


Riz Ahmed [00:27:24] I mean, the monologue in my head is usually that I’m a fraud. And also that I don’t work hard enough. And I think that a lot of people have that. I mean, I’ve spoken to like actors who I admire so much and directors and I’ve kind of musicians and just constantly like, yeah, I’m a total fraud. I’m an imposter. And like, I’m lazy. I’m like, ‘Wow, okay, it seems all you do is work.’ So I don’t know. I’m kind of aware of the fact that those thoughts are maybe not based in reality, that they’re kind of like a learned thought pattern. 


Sinéad Burke [00:27:57] Does it hinder you or does it accelerate? 


[00:27:59] I’ve recently started to think they help – it helps you. That whipping yourself will make you go faster. Actually, I just realized that wears you down. I’m trying. And it’s a really long journey. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. But to try and kind of like engage in a kinder attitude, a kinder attitude to myself, more self-compassion and self-love. I know a lot of the time I’ve just always kind of dismissed that narrative as like, one that is, like, leads to complacency and laziness and inertia. But actually, I’m realizing it’s so important. A) Because you can’t sustain a lifestyle that is based on like fear and being yourself. And secondly, I think because when you engage in real self love and self acceptance, actually what you’re doing is you’re just removing a level of tension and a level of creative block that can let real inspiration in, that can let real connection in. It’s that thing like if you can’t connect to yourself, you can’t connect to others. That’s been, I think, so much of my life kind of caging my creative animal and putting a leash on it and a muzzle on it and turning into a circus animal. And I’m making my creative animal dance for others, for the approval of others. With audiences, with directors, or people that didn’t think you’re shit, you know. And it’s only now that I kind of realize how important it is to to unmuzzle and unleash and uncage the creative animal. And take in. Take it in like you’d taken a mongrel, you know, from from the dog pound and say –


Sinéad Burke [00:29:29] Nurture it. 


Riz Ahmed [00:29:30] Yeah, it’s alright. I accept you, man. You’re not perfect. But where you want to go boy? I’ll follow you. And I think that’s been a big shift for me just in terms of realizing the need for that. 


Sinéad Burke [00:29:41] Riz Ahmed, what gives you hope? 


Riz Ahmed [00:29:44] Kids today. They’re just geniuses man. I don’t know if you see this, but I mean, I guess they just grow up with so much information at their fingertips. It’s feel like they have access to a vocabulary, into a world, into a knowledge base that we didn’t meet growing up. That information comes with, you know, lots of baggage and like addictive, manipulative algorithms, you know, attached through social media. But, yeah, the kind of young people coming up today, again, they don’t have a choice. You know. Climate collapse is real for them. For us, it was always, you know, our kids and our grandkids. For these kids, it’s like, no, it’s it’s. 


Sinéad Burke [00:30:23] Tomorrow. 


Riz Ahmed [00:30:23] Yeah,. 


Sinéad Burke [00:30:24] If not today. 


Riz Ahmed [00:30:25] Yeah, it’s whether they have a future or not. 


[00:30:27] But there’s also different perspectives. I heard a really brilliant quote once, but the only people who can afford to be climate change deniers are those who exist in spaces of privilege because they don’t have to see it. They don’t have to experience it. It doesn’t impact their lives. You can only be a climate change denier if you’re – 


Riz Ahmed [00:30:43] Already insulated from some of those conditions. Yeah, I think that is true. Although, there is something about kind of like Mother Nature that can be a universal leveler, right? I think there’s something so impending and undeniable about some of the challenges we face and also something undeniable about the fact that we can only overcome these challenges together, that, yeah, it’s either incredibly depressing or it gives you immense hope. Because we’ll either just won’t pull together and we won’t face these challenges and it’s all going to go to shit and it’s game over, or people are gonna get really active, really involved, really engaged, really passionate, really creative. And often, I meeting so many young people who are all those things that that gives me hope. And yeah, as I said, I kind of think like our job while we’re here is to, like, pass the baton and just try and light the way a little bit. I kind of feel like everything I’m doing at least, is about trying to, like, invigorate an impassion those younger people. Try and give them the inspiration or vocabulary or tools that they might need to really. 


Sinéad Burke [00:31:44] Step forward. 


Riz Ahmed [00:31:44] Yeah. 


Sinéad Burke [00:31:46] What do you want your legacy to be? 


Riz Ahmed [00:31:47] This podcast on loop. 


Sinéad Burke [00:31:50] In your head? This is the new monologue. 


Riz Ahmed [00:31:53] Exactly. Exactly. 


Sinéad Burke [00:31:56] Riz it’s been such a privilege. 


Riz Ahmed [00:31:58] Thank you so much for such thoughtful questions and being so honest. And yeah, I constantly learn from you every time we speak as well. Thank you. 


Sinéad Burke [00:32:05] Thank you. 


Sinéad Burke [00:32:15] The person you should know is Irish journalist, but London based, Kira O’Connor. Earlier this week, Kira spoke on Instagram about the inaccessibility and the ignorance that she experienced while visiting the Tate Museum. A special exhibition is taking place there that really looks at 3D design. Yet to enter the space, one must ascend three stairs. Kira is a wheelchair user, and when she inquired about the access policy, the museum’s response was ‘Well, the curator designed it like this.’ For how long more is that going to be good enough? When do we stop creating art and institutions and spaces and societies where only certain people get to exist as them full selves or get to exist at all? 



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